How do I keep my dog engaged with the retrieve?

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My gundog retrieves nicely in the garden but loses interest when out on a walk and drops the dummy... how can I keep my dog engaged with the retrieve?

Q: I have been doing retrieves in our garden, with reasonable success. Today on a walk in a large field with long grass, I thought I might see if our Korthals Griffon would enjoy the challenge, but he seemed unimpressed. He went out fast, picked the dummy, then dropped it and went on rooting about. It was his favourite dummy, but it seemed he was more interested in something else. What should I do to keep him engaged?

HOWARD KIRBY replies: This is a common problem with all retrieving dogs, but is likely to be more prevalent in the HPR group. Clearly, the environment that your dog is in offers him more value than the dummy you’re throwing for him.

In reading your description, there are a few things that you might do. Firstly, make sure the dummies are interesting: rabbit fur, bird wing or ‘scenting up’ the dummies might stimulate an interest. However, this will serve to mask other issues. Be really careful about allowing hunting dogs to free-hunt and go rooting around on long dog walks. This will be the single most significant thing that will encourage your dog to disengage from you.

Try a change of exercise plan, a less exciting environment, higher-value dummies and short outdoor sessions, during which you make it your business to give the dog the time of his life by engaging with you. Bolt that lot on to a training regime that has developed the dog’s level of obedience and demeanour while it’s around you.

This relationship should have a dynamic that ensures that the dog understands just exactly who is the boss. Fetch should mean just that: go straight out, pick up the dummy and rush back to me. Rewards aplenty for everyone involved. Hope that’s helpful.

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